An advertisement by definition is a paid announcement, as of goods for sale, in newspapers or magazines, on radio or television, etc. That is the denotative aspect of the word however what isn’t covered is the connotations associated with ads. As Cortese states in Constructing Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising “advertising sells much more than products; it sells values and cultural representations” (Constructed Bodies, 1). In our naivety its difficult to decipher the values that we have already been sold and have come to know as ‘normal’. For example, Patriarchy is a system we have been force fed and have not questioned because just about everything we are shown has a nasty habit of reinforcing it. However in this age of modernity the ad agency has taken a certain nuance into their profession while simultaneously referencing the ways of the past.
Now ads like these don’t exist in today’s day and age but just how society has developed discrimination has too in different shapes and forms.
So do you mean to tell me that this soda/hair product/chocolate bar/fragrance/shampoo/beer will get me all of the women? It is hard NOT to believe it all with all of this blinding chauvinistic evidence upon us. Ads have long ago passed the intention of selling a product for its intended use so they have stepped into a realm where they intend to sell you a fantasy associated with their product. This fragrance will attract women, this hair product/clothing/luxury vehicle will make you more appealing to women and with all this effort to attract women there is still an attempt to exile women (Dr. Pepper ad). This male identity according to ads only consists of this strictly heterosexual, sex driven, women chasing/hating individuals. It is taught that men are ‘inherently’ dominate and need to rule over everything and everyone, especially women. Naomi Wolf states “women are mere ‘beauties’ in men’s culture so that culture can be kept male” (Culture, 59) and that male dominated culture helped shape generations of men to adopt this sexist attitude.
While ads have shaped a “man’s culture” women have lied on these outskirts living on the dichotomy of the standards they were forced to conform to. Women are taught to be submissive yet independent, sexy but virginal, strong but ultimately passive. There is also this notion of a beauty myth introduced by Naomi Wolf where she states “beauty-without-intelligence or intelligence-without-beauty; women are allowed a mind or a body but not both (Culture, 59). To dive deeper into of the beauty myth is a recognizable group of characters, the Mystery Gang from the Scooby Doo series, including their two female characters Daphne and Velma; one intelligent one beautiful. Even with all the protest and movements dedicated to women’s movements and gender equality women are still displayed as sex objects. After high-fashion culture ended and ads concerning clothing geared towards women began to plummet Vogue first began launched a new attack on women, the Nude Look (Culture, 67). This new attack would launch the falsehood of the diet phenomenon that prays on the insecurity of men and women to self-hate, disease and the search of an unreal ideal image. Thinness and diet would be pushed to the forefront of ads, revolving around a world where no one is ever ugly, overweight, poor, toiling, or physically or mentally disabled (Constructed Bodies, 8). Ads loved to play on this notion of a ‘perfect’ representation of physical female beauty, or as Cortese calls it the “waif look” (Constructed Bodies, 13). Does Eliana really have to be topless to sell pants? Can Australia really be kept ‘beautiful’ by eating low carb energy bars? Is this woman’s mind really about to be “blown”? And are diamonds really forever? This “new and improved” sexism, or retro sexism, has a backward moving way of thinking where women are still viewed as sex objects, subservient to men, intelligent but unattractive and beauty but weak.
Somewhere among this monochromatic race of advertisements, one must wonder where does race fit into all of this? To bring further specification Bell Hooks’ phrase “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (Understanding Patriarchy, 17) should be sufficient. It the past decade or so there has been recent discovery that there is money to be made by ads in black or ‘urban’ markets. However, with this recent discovery advertisers were baffled into how to approach this ‘new and undiscovered’ market. For such a long time when it was said it was a ‘man’s world’ what was really being said was it was a ‘white man’s world’. The absence of diversity was just something that would fall through the cracks in the ads world until black consumers would make it through the white haven into the threshold of mainstream consumerism. There is a potent message of self-hate and negative imagery associated with ads targeting black people. There lies that old racist negative connotation of dark skin and ‘positive’ light skin.
OJ Simpson at the time of his murder trial is darkened while Beyonce is lightened, one negative one positive.
It seems that the only way to combat the culture representations presented by ads is to fight with a true cultural representation. It is a quest that must be embarked upon for past, present and future generations. As life has presented there is more than the single-minded and idealized vision shown in ads that seem to effortlessly break and enter into our minds. Although the challenge does not lie in creating positive and true ads the actual challenge is to bring them to the forefront of mainstream America. It must be taught that not every man is a perfect specimen of athletic prowess standing semi nude draped by sexually willing women as if their only goal is to be the object of this individual’s lust. Equally it must be taught that women are not the objects, that intelligence does not have to be sacrificed for beauty, that dominance, the drive for success and determination are not ‘inherently male’. Education will be the key to counteract and reverse the norms instilled into our culture from ads.
Hooks, Bell. “Understanding Patriarchy” The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.
Wolf, Naomi. Culture.
Cortese, Anthony. Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising.
Imagery & Culture
March 13, 2014